For me there is no bad time to visit London but one of my favourite times of year is London at Christmas! For me it is a magical place that truly has the spirit of Christmas so if you are looking for the best things to in London at Christmas we have you covered with our Christmas in London itinerary covering the festive day trips from London, the best Christmas carols London has on offer and of course London Christmas markets, best places to go ice skating and much much more.
Updated for London Christmas 2019
10 Things to Know Before Visiting London at Christmas / Why Visit London at Christmas
- If you are visiting London in December then you are going to need to pack for the weather. The weather in London at any time of year is changeable but is especially so when visiting London at Christmas. You may have frost or rain in London at Christmas. You make equally get a crisp sunny day. Make sure you pack plenty of layers and you’ll be fine.
- If you are in London for Christmas Day be warned that there is no public transport on Christmas day and you may find things slowing down on Christmas Eve. If you plan to go out on Christmas Day be sure to pick restaurants etc somewhere close to where you are staying.
- Restaurant reservations for Christmas Day and New Years Eve fill up early. If you want to eat out on these days be sure to make your reservations VERY early to avoid disappointment.
- The main London attractions all close on Christmas day.
The Perfect Christmas London Itinerary (best things to do at Christmas in London)
This is my perfect Christmas London itinerary so if you want to visit at London at Christmas this itinerary will make sure you maximise your time for all the festivities in the city! The days listed in this Christmas in London itinerary can be done in any order and if you are more limited on time I would suggest just picking your favourite days to make the correct itinerary for you! This best things to do at Christmas in London itinerary will cover:
- Best London Christmas Markets
- Best London Winter Day Trips
- Best London Christmas Lights and Ice Rinks
Please note: if you are spending Christmas Day in London there are restrictions in transport and opening hours which we will cover later in this article!
If you want to do Christmas things in London the I would recommend visiting London in December because although Christmas does start to kick off in London in November you are guaranteed more festivities in December.
This itinerary is designed with the idea that you have a whole four days in London however if you need to factor in transport time then choose which half day you are least interested in. For advice for getting from Heathrow Airport to London via public transport or for more London travel tips click on the links.
Day One of Christmas London Itinerary
Start by having breakfast at Borough Market. This is a London foodie gem and is a great place to pick up some foodie treats especially if you are staying in self catered accommodation in London! You’ll be able to pick up loads of festive and traditional English treats like mince pies, Christmas Pudding and more.
There are hundreds of stalls at this market so you are sure to find something for every taste and is especially great at Christmas.
As an added bonus film buffs will also recognize this as the location of Bridget Jone’s flat.
Top Tip: Be sure yo go there early as the crowds, especially at lunchtime can get big.
After you have fueled up, head out of the market and walk West! The walk along the Thames is beautiful and you will hit some more of London’s best known sights including
- The Golden Hinde Replica – a reconstruction of the ship that belonged to Sir Francis Drake! It is great that you can climb aboard and for London it isn’t too busy an attraction!
- Clink Prison – You can’t fail to notice the Clink as outside there is a large skeleton hanging in a cage! Not a museum in the most traditional sense and a bit gruesome (so not one for those traveling with small children). The museum offers a gruesome insight into some of the prisoners who had been held there.
- Shakespeare’s Globe! The Globe is a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s open air theatre and offers daily performances of Shakespeare.
- Millenium Bridge
The next big icon on your walk will be the Tate Modern! This industrial building is hard to miss on the London skyline! If you enjoy art and want to escape the cold for a while be sure to head inside and check out some of the exhibits.
An added bonus of this walk is that from the Tate right down to the London eye there is Southbank Christmas Market! The stalls here line the riverside and have got great street food, and drink options.
To end the day you have two choices and both are among the most Christmassy things to do in London:
Firstly if you haven’t already had a chance to ice skate or perhaps you fancy this setting more try the skating rink opposite the London Eye and combine the attraction with a bit of skating. This is a very popular one so be warned it gets busy and I always recommend booking your London eye tickets in advance to save time queuing.
An alternative ice skating rink nearby is the famous skating at Somerset House which is combined well for your second option this evening which is to head to Covent Garden! For me Covent Garden is one of the most Christmassy places in the whole of London! The piazza and the market are filled with amazing Christmas decorations! Be sure to stop in Covent Garden for Dinner and go for a stroll around the piazza afterwards watching the street performers and seeing any Christmas special events.
Day One of the Perfect Christmas In London Itinerary
Start day at one of the museums in South Kensington. Museums are an essential part of any London itinerary and South Kensington is home to some of the best museums in London and will have something for every cultural taste between the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum! For those travelling with toddlers or younger children I would opt for one of the first two museums while adults may prefer the V&A. But in my opinion all are worth a visit no matter your age. And on top of being some museums in the world they are also all free museum in London.
If you would like to find a London itinerary designed specifically for kids then check this post out.
Once you have finished your morning at the museums I would recommend making your way into one of the beautiful Mews roads of London and one of my favourite London pubs – The Queens Arms! When I worked in South Kensington we would always hold our Christmas meals at this pub so it has to make my London Christmas itinerary.
This pub is always busy but especially so at Christmas so be sure to ring ahead and book your table in advance.
For your afternoon, head back towards the Natural History Museum and hit what is my personal favourite ice skating rink in London. But be warned the queues for this can get long but in my opinion it is worth the wait especially if you are going in late afternoon as the sun is going down and the Christmas lights are coming on. It is a magical Festive London experience.
To end the day jump on the tube and head to Hyde Park to enjoy an evening in the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland! This is perhaps the most iconic of all the London Christmas Markets and is best experienced in the evening. However I would note that if our are travelling to London with small children they might enjoy this in the day more as it can get busy.
Day Three of the Perfect London Christmas Itinerary – The Best Day Trips to Take from London in December
For me no London itinerary no matter the time of year is complete without a day trip. There are so many awesome day trips that are accessible from London and the winter months are no exception. If you are looking for the best day trips to do from London in December and the lead up to Christmas our top picks are:
Harry Potter Studio Tour aka Hogwarts in the Snow
This is a must for any Harry Potter fan no matter what time of year you are visiting London but Christmas is an extra special time and always makes all the top things to do in London at Christmas lists.
The Harry Potter Studio Tour from late November to early January is given a makeover and the subtitle Hogwarts in the Snow and the studio becomes even more magical than normal (if you can believe that – it’s already pretty magical).
For big Potter fans, you will notice that the decorations is reminiscent of my favourite of all the films in the franchise – the Goblet of Fire and the big Yule Ball!
They go all out with Christmas trees, fireplaces, feasts and even fake snow! It is one of the most Christmassy things to do in London! But be sure to book your tickets well in advance! It is always advisable to book your Harry Potter studio tour tickets in advance as it does sell out but this is even more true for the Hogwarts in the Snow period.
Alternative Best Day Trip from London in December / London in December itinerary
But if Harry potter isn’t your thing then there are still plenty of great day trips to take from London in December.
One of my favourite combinations is to head to West London for the day and do the combination of Hampton Court Palace, Richmond and Kew Gardens
One of my favourite day trips from London whether it be winter, spring summer or autumn is Hampton Court Palace. If you are staying in Central London then it is just a short train from Waterloo Station to get to Hampton Court Palace! For more details on how to take a day trip to Hampton Court from London click here.
The Palace has special Christmas events and have carolling, Christmas markets, and always a favourite part of the Palace for me is the kitchen which at Christmas will have live cooking demonstrations showing how Christmas dinner has changed over time.
Be sure to check on the Hampton Court Palace website before your visit to make sure what events are happening during your time in London! If you are there around early December you will want to try and catch the Hampton Court Palace Festive Fayre.
Hampton Court Palace also has one of the best ice skating rinks in London so if you haven’t had chance to do skating in the centre or perhaps you just want to try your hand at skating in this idyllic setting is a great place to do it.
Once you have finished at Hampton Court Palace hop on the bus to Richmond Town Centre! Richmond, my hometown is a quaint town on the river with great shops, pubs and cafes! It is a great a place to wile away your afternoon and also get a traditional pub dinner.
Our favourite places to have dinner in Richmond are
- The White Swan – next to the site of the Old Richmond Palace! This pub does great food in an off the beaten track location and is often called a hidden gem of Richmond so shh I didn’t tell you about it!
- The Marlborough – a great foodie pub on Richmond Hill
- The Roebuck
If high end dining and Michelin stars are more your taste then you should check out
After dinner and to end your day spend the Evening at Kew Gardens Illuminated! We are season ticket holders at Kew Gardens and love to visit no matter the time of year but Kew Gardens illuminated is extra special.
The Christmas Evenings at Kew have been running for 7 years and are always a sight to behold! There are laser projections, beautiful lights, singing holly bushes, a mini Christmas market and the amazing finale at the Palm House Pond.
Tickets for this event are timed so be sure to book your tickets well in advance to be sure to get your desired time slot.
If you want to go a bit further afield for your day trip then I would recommend visiting Leeds Castle, Kent at Christmas! This is often called the loveliest castle int eh world and it is extra lovely at Christmas.
Day Four of the Perfect Christmas In London Itinerary
If you are looking for what to do in London at Christmas the you have to put some Christmas shopping on your list. Start your morning by indulging in some Christmas shopping along the famous Oxford and Regents Street! Some of the best and busiest shopping streets in the UK! But do be sure to return to Oxford and Regents Street in the evening to see some of the most impressive Christmas lights in London.
You will also want to make sure you hit some of London’s most famous department stores as these have some of the best Christmas displays in the city. The must visit department stores in London are
- Fortnum and Masons and of course
Harrods in my opinion usually has the best window displays but my favourite place to pick up bits is Fortnum and Mason’s as they specialise in food! It is also a great place to get some presents (English Breakfast Teas, fudge, and other English staples) to take back home after your trip and is one of the best things to do in London over Christmas.
And for your afternoon sit down and indulge in a traditional Afternoon tea. My favourite traditional afternoon tea in London is at the Ritz and in my opinion is a must for any London bucket list. Christmas is a great time to visit the Ritz for afternoon tea as the palm court is transformed into an Edwardian winter wonderland and is the perfect traditional Christmas afternoon tea.
But if you don’t fancy this or can’t make a reservation these hotels also offer great festive afternoon teas
- The Savoy
- One Aldwych
- The Savoy
For your evening, I would recommend taking in the grand British tradition of the Christmas Pantomime. The English Pantomime is a hard things to explain but basically it takes a traditional tale – Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin etc hams them up and add a cross dressing dame with some musical numbers and minor UK celebrities. It really is a must for the UK Bucket List! I am particularly fond of the British pantomime given I grew up as a pantomime babe.
The most well regarded pantomime in the UK is the Wimbledon theatre one but you will enjoy it wherever you get tickets for.
However if you don’t fancy it then other Christmas Shows you could consider are:
- The Nutcracker at the London Coliseum by the English Royal Ballet!
- The Snowman – a classic British Christmas tale
- Christmas at the Royal Albert Hall – a series of Christmas shows that run throughout December.
I would advise booking your tickets in advance!
Day 5 of your What to do in London At Christmas Itinerary
Another London institution that you must see in London is going to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard. This will need checking before you go as the Changing of the Guard, despite popular opinoin does not happen every day.
Check the Changing of the Guard website and plan this in advance! Although the Changing starts at 11 I would recommend getting there at 10:30! You can find more of our tips for the Changing of the Guard here!
One the Guard has changed be sure to head for a stroll around St James Park and see the beautiful Pelicans! I love strolling around the parks of London at Christmas and this is one of my favourites.
After that I would recommend spending the rest of the afternoon sightseeing some of London’s most famous sites such as
- Horse Guards
- Big Ben
- Wesminster Abbey
Before ending your day in Trafalgar Square to see my favourite Christmas tree in all of London.
For your evening you are going to do one of my favourite Christmas things to do in London (providing your dates fit of course). St Martin in the Fields offers some of my favourite Christmas Carols in all of London! If you are lucky to be in London when this is occurring I would strongly recommend adding this to your itinerary. However if not I would use this time to fit in another show. To check when the carols service are please check the St Martins in the Fields website.
Best things to do in London on Christmas Day / Best Christmas things to do in London
Now if you are staying in London on Christmas day you might be wondering what are the best things to do in London on Christmas day. Well spending Christmas day in London for tourists can be a bit of an oddity as Christmas is the one day in the London calendar that you will find deserted streets and calm.
London on Christmas Day largely comes to a stand still with public transport not running. Taxis are probably your best option for travelling around London on Christmas Day.
There is not much to do in on Christmas day in London for tourists in terms of London attractions however don’t worry there are still things to do in London on Christmas Day. So are our the top things to do in London on Christmas Day.
Attend mass at St. Paul’s cathedral
St Pauls Cathedral holds a Christmas morning mass and is a great way to start off your Christmas in London
Westminster Abbey and Southwark also run mass and carols on Christmas day.
Peter Pan Race
An alternative however is to head to the Serpentine inHyde Park and watch the annual Peter Pan Race! The race has been run (swam!) since 1864.
Have Christmas Lunch
One of the things to do on Christmas day in London is of course have a traditional Christmas dinner. Though not many places are open on Christmas day there are plenty of places that you can grab a proper Christmas lunch but be warned this book up early so you need to be organised for this.
Where to stay in London for Christmas
If you are staying in London for the Christmas Period, I would recommend splashing out for a nice hotel if you can as they go all out on their Christmas decorations!
Some of my favourite and highly rated luxury hotels in London are:
My favorite hotel breakfast in the world! It is a great location and very family friendly
I love this hotel especially its pool with the underwater music! It also has a great Charlie and the chocolate factory themed afternoon tea!
If you want to stay in a bucket list worthy hotel in London then this is the one for you!
However if you are looking for a more budget friendly option I always stay at Premier Inn County Hall! There are several locations in central London and all are very convenient!
However, if you are planning to stay in London over Christmas or would like your own kitchen facilities to make your own Christmas dinner you may want to consider looking at an AirBnB!
For a more complete guide on where to stay in London click here!
Other top 10 things to do in London at Christmas
If you have room in your itinerary for some more sights then here are our top 10 things to do in London at Christmas that we didn’t have room for in the above itinerary.
- Museum of London – find out about Victorian Christmas
- Horniman Museum
- Geffrye Museum
- Kensington Palace – Victorian Christmas style
- Dickens Museum – get in your Christmas Carol spirit!
- St Pancras Christmas Tree
- Tower of London ice skating
Frequently asked questions about Visiting London at Christmas
What do I wear in London at Christmas?
Never fear we have a whole what to wear in London in December post – check out our London Winter Packing List here.
Is Christmas a good time to visit London?
I think Christmas is the perfect time to visit London as it is a magical place at Christmas. There are loads of special Christmas event and if you are travelling to London in December (not just Christmas week) the crowds will be far less than during the summer.
What can you do on Christmas Day in London?
Not much is open in on Christmas Day in London as it is the one day of the year attractions shut. If you are looking for things to do on Christmas Day in London I would recommend heading to one of the parks or heading out for a lovely traditional Christmas lunch.
Is there public transport in London on Christmas Day?
No there is no public transport in London on Christmas Day. If you need to get around on Christmas Day you will have to walk or use a taxi.
What are your favourite things to do in London at Christmas? And let me know in the comments what you think are the best things to do on christmas day in london